Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The slow death of magic as we know it 
or just another change in art?

On another board I belong to there was a topic that bemoaned the fact that magic has changed. Believing that it has changed for the worse.  Many were aghast at the fact that mentalism is now mixed with magic.  Years ago that was a no-no. You simply did not mix the two as it made mentalism look like magic.  It took away from the mystery and "cheapened the grown-up art form of magic" called mentalism.  David Blaine and Criss Angel are often pointed to as the cause. Sometimes I and others, as consultants are also lumped in as culprits.  I have always liked to say that if we are entertaining then we are doing our job. We are not here to change religion or personal beliefs but to get smiles and standing ovations and take people away from their lives if only for a small bit of time. It is our job to entertain and if we have done so we have done our job. But again I digress as I usually do.

The argument on that board bemoaned that art needs rules. One poster said, and I quote; 

“Art cannot survive without limits. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true, for it is exactly those boundaries, i.e. standards, that heat the crucible of creativity.”

There is truth to the end of that statement indeed. The fact that those standards, those rules; "Heat the Crucible of creativity," but I disagree with the statement that art cannot survive without limits. 

We do need a rule base, but the base is really the small starting point in art.  A brush, some technique, and a canvas and you are off to painting, maybe not a good one but a painting non-the-less. A musical instrument and an understanding how to play it and your off to being a musician and so on.

I believe that art progresses due to breaking the rules. But I disagree with the statement as a whole.

I believe that new art is found, created, and progresses by breaking boundaries.

If it were not the case then we would not have Dali or Renoir. Each broke the rules of their times.

We would not have Dali or Frida Kahlo (who is all over Playa del Carmen where I am currently writing this) if it was not for the surrealist movement which is traced back to 1924 when the Manifestos Of Surrealism was written by André Breton in which he explained the revolutionary ideas behind this artistic movement. He explained that this group of artists:

“We're seeking total freedom to depict the subconscious without being concerned with logic, rationalism, aesthetics, morality or self-censorship” 

Surrealism broke the rules of the times.  

And yes I know Frida did not like to be called a surrealist and in fact, said of the Paris surrealists; "This bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches" in a private letter. But much to her chagrin, there is no escaping that her art has a tinge of surrealism painted all over it.

By the way, one of the small tangents I am known for: Did you know Dali was fascinated with Hitler and even dreamed Hitler was a woman? Weird.  See that painting by Dali above.  Well just look what's for dinner!

Both Matisse and Picasso broke rules with dual perspective paintings. Many painters chose to break the rules of their times, rules of perspective, content, narration, and composition were all broken. Without these rebels, we would not have such wonderful eclectic art pieces today.  At the time these detours from the norm were shocking to other artists and purists of the art and seen as blasphemy. 

If it was not for breaking rules we would not have Ernest Hemingway nor Beethoven or Elvis (gasp).

Rules of what Christian music can and should be, have changed a few times and more recently with TobyMac, who has attracted a whole generation to the church. Who would have thunk you would have hip hop in church?

If it was not for breaking rules then the old style of writing about reality only, (and yes that was a rule), we would not have Science Fiction or Fantasy Fiction.  That’s right, Frankenstein and the Hobbit were rule-breakers at the time.

We would not have some of Charles Dickens's great writings like this run-on sentence of his:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...” from A Tale of Two Cities

Oh yeah, did I forget Shakespeare who re-wrote how you write a sonnet and who created words out of thin air! Yes, Shakespeare was a major rule breaker

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle broke rules when he wrote in the passive voice which he did often in his Sherlock Holmes series of books.

Probably some of your favorite movies would not have made it to the screen had cinematography rules of the time been kept:

Script size: Social Network was 167 pages. The page average acceptable count is around 110 even now.  Keeping in mind that the rule is one page of the script is equal to give or take one minute. But that is Allen Sorkin for you, breaking the rules.

Intent: Shrek: changed children's animated movie content. 

Who you keep alive: Psycho: Hitchcock killed off the main character, Vivian Leigh, in the first act.

Dialogue: Pulp fiction: has pages and pages of dialogue, too much by the normal standards and rules of what is acceptable movie dialogue.

Race/violence: Night Of The Living Dead: put a black man in a lead role when it was seen as a big no-no at the time and if that was not enough ...oh my, the violence, the inhumanity. Variety calling the movie “Pornography of violence.” 

Yes, rules are made to be broken, and now due to these movies, we have so many other great movies. And should we forget 'Look Who is Coming to Dinner, which came out when interracial relationships were still illegal in 17 states?  Speaking of violence, Texas Chainsaw Massacre completely changed the way we look at horror movies, and speaking of banned it was banned in several countries from showing. Also, the film was advertised as based upon a real story. It was based upon the real-life crimes of  Ed Gain, however, it was far from the real story. Director Tobe Hooper said that he felt it okay to lie to the people since the U.S. Government had lied about the Vietnam war. This movie opened roads for films to create social commentary. Something not done prior. Toby Hooper  also said; 

"The lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things" that Hooper noticed while watching the local news, whose graphic coverage was epitomized by "
showing brains spilled all over the road", led to his belief that "man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film"

I believe that art rules can be broken but only when done with a purpose. Was that a  rule I just stated? On the other hand, haphazardness is not art, is it?.

I think art survives because there are no limits, only what came before to build upon, to re-mold and break free and become relevant. Change in any art is a huge hard pill to swallow for those close to any art, but things do change like it or not. Our grandparents hated the Beatles when they came out. Yes, I am quite aware some still do, but my point is they were not accepted by the older generation who were used to certain types of music. Nothing has changed in that way, many hate the music of today. In the future, Two or three generations from now, I guarantee that today's generations won't get the music or art presented to them and many will be annoyed by it.

 The Dali Lama has been credited with saying.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” 

A line very close to it is credited to Pablo Picasso.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” 

And if that does not say artists can break rules I am not sure what does. 

If it was not for breaking rules mentalism probably would not be performed as Dunninger and Kreskin performed it. Or the way I perform it. In fact, with giving disclaimers there were many who said, "There is no place for a fake mentalist."  When pointed out to them that I had taken Entertainer of the College circuit two years in a row at APCA the new mantra was, "Banachek is the exception."  If I could do it, others could and have done so since. 

The magician Doug Henning broke the traditional magician tux and tails rule when he showed up dressed like a hippy and performed what many called a spiritual type of magic. David Copperfield took it further with his GQ look, David Blaine broke rules in the way we see magic on TV, and Criss Angel broke all those rules with his goth look and the way large illusions were seen on the street for the first time. 

Now don't get me wrong, I personally only perform pure mentalism. And I do not believe that my rule should hold for all.  But it is my choice for my character and I create my own rules for my performance and character on stage.

I believe we are seeing a major change in the rules of magic today and for many of us, it is sad. But on a whole, who knows, maybe wonderful things await us. 

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